Play Word Toss and Learn to Copy Morse Code in Your Head

Greg Stobbs N8GAS

William G. Pierpont, in The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy, claims that some of you can hear Morse code so fluently, it’s just a conversation between two people. No pens or pencils are required, and you can hold that Morse conversation while simultaneously watching TV and reading War and Peace. That ain’t me—but I’d like it to be.

When I first started learning Morse code and tried to “copy in my head,” I immediately discovered that my brain could only hold one letter at a time. As soon as the next letter came along, I forgot the one before. This brain buffer limitation forced me to use pencil and paper. As my copying speed increased, my handwriting devolved into a tiny, often unintelligible, cursive scrawl. Yes, I knew I could switch to keyboard and learn to type into the mill as the Navy submarine operators do. But the magical allure of a Morse code conversation, without props, has captivated my attention.

Dan Romanchik, author of The CW Geek’s Guide to Having Fun with Morse Code, tells us just to put down your pencil and go cold turkey, as he did. High speed operator, Carlo Consoli, author of Zen and the Art of Radio Telegraphy, suggests you practice relaxation and visualize yourself as a high-speed operator. “Maybe one day you will become one,” he says. Bill Kisse W3MSH, who has reached the goal I seek, says, “I was a CW op for many years and discovered something fascinating. I first began to hear ‘dots and dashes’, then letters, words, sentences and at 35+ wpm, thoughts in my head.”

I have no reason to doubt that any of the foregoing advice is true. But how long must I sit—no pencil in sight—in a relaxed hypnotic trance, picturing myself a high speed operator? When will the blessed event occur? I want those “thoughts in my head” now. Certainly there must be a way to speed things up.

So I began to think about why I could only remember one letter at at time, and what I might do to fix it. I formulated a theory that the brain has a temporary buffer where it stores incoming letters. In my case this buffer was sized to contain exactly one letter. I needed a way to stretch it.

Figuring that I would eventually want to learn the sounds of words as I had learned the sounds of letters, I downloaded the 500 most commonly used English words, sorted them by length and made myself a practice MP3 file using software that converts text to Morse. After a bit of practice I managed to stretch my character buffer to hold two letters at a time, but retaining three letter words or longer remained beyond my grasp. So I came up with the following game that is designed to gradually stretch one’s character buffer. Best played with a CW practice buddy. I call the game Word Toss.

To play Word Toss, distribute a list of three letter words to each player. Player One picks one word from the list and sends it twice to Player Two. Player Two tries to copy the word in his head. Requests to repeat are freely permitted. Player Two then sends back the word he copied. Assuming he copied correctly, Player Two then picks a different word from the list and sends it to Player One. The game goes on like this until copying one three letter word becomes easy. Remember, no pencils allowed. This is all in your head.

Once single three letter words become easy, start sending two different three letter words. No need to send each grouping twice, unless the other player asks. When you and your buddy can copy both words easily, your character buffer has now been stretched to three letters. Distribute a new list of four letter words and repeat the process. After your character buffer has been stretched to four letters, switch to five letter words.

The word toss game can go on and on. Personally, I’ve not yet gone beyond five letter sets with my practice buddy, but I truly believe that one could eventually stretch one’s character buffer to hold “chrysanthemum,” if desired. I’m not sure that’s needed however. Word toss of three, four and five letter words has helped me a great deal.

If you can’t find a practice buddy who is interested in stretching his or her character buffer, you can always make mp3 files or tapes and practice by yourself. I made myself some Word Toss mp3 recordings that I loaded onto an old iPod for listening in the car. I made sets of paired three-letter, four-letter and five-letter words, sent at speeds ranging from 20 wpm to 30 wpm.

I must admit a certain delight in driving furtively about town in a car filled with Word Toss snippets of Morse code. No one even suspects I am stretching my character buffer as we all wait for the light to turn green.

My next goal will be to increase my word vocabulary—words I can just hear without the need to decode the letters. I’m thinking of using the top 1000 English words for that. If I come up with anything brilliant, I’ll let you know in a future edition of The 5 Watter.

Michigan QRP Net Procedures

Ed Kwik AB8DF

There are still some folks whose signal I barely hear but am not able to check in due to procedural issues. I'd like to talk about net procedures in detail so that everyone who wants to check in can. Here we go:

Zero beating to my signal is ultra-important. The goal is to transmit on the same frequency that I am sending. If you have a "spot" button on your radio, it's easy.

Just push the button and compare my signal to the tone coming out of your radio. If you don't have a spot button, just send a few dits. Are your tone and my tone exactly the same? If not, you are off frequency from me. The result of being off frequency is that you may be outside, or nearly outside, the pass band of my radio and I won't hear you very well. The strongest part of a received CW tone is at the center of the radio pass band. The further your tone is away from center the weaker it is. Bottom line: If you want to be heard on low power, you have to zero beat the NCS' signal.

Our net is a "directed" net, which means you follow the instructions of Net Control and standard procedures are followed. It's important to follow these procedures in consideration of others. Everyone deserves an opportunity to check in and make some brief comments. Here's how it's supposed to go:

Step 1: Net Control (NCS) calls "QRL? QRL?" to see if the frequency is in use.

Step 2: Net Control sends an opening statement. It identifies the net, invites Hams to participate and describes the NCS. This is a good opportunity to zero beat NCS' signal.

Step 3: Net Control calls "MI QRP NET QNI?" That means it's time for stations to send their call signs for Net Control to copy.

Step 4: LISTEN for other stations first. When you don't hear anyone else trying to check in, then send "DE <space> YOURCALLSIGN". The space is very important. It's a way to listen again to be sure that someone else is not trying to check in at the same time. If NCS hears several call signs trying to check in simultaneously, (commonly called a "double"), he usually can't hear either station and has to ask "AGN PSE". This is especially troublesome with weak stations and bad conditions.

Step 5: When NCS hears your call sign, he will acknowledge it by repeating it. If he receives multiple call signs, he will repeat all that he has heard. Example: "N6TLU AS". "AS" means standby. The reason I say standby is that I will return to you LATER for comments. When I acknowledge your check-in the first time, that is NOT the time for you to make comments. If you do, you may be doubling with other stations trying to check in.

Step 6: Wait for NCS to call you again. Example: "N6TLU DE WQ8RP ES MI QRP NET K". This means NCS is calling you and only you. That doesn't mean it's time for more check-ins. Make some comments, say "73" if you wish, and end with "WQ8RP DE <YOURCALLSIGN> K".

Step 7: NCS will call the entire list of stations individually until everyone has had a chance to make comments. NCS will call "QNI K" and listen for more check-ins at the end of initial list. If you have not yet been acknowledged by Net Control, keep trying to call until NCS hears you but please wait for the "QNI K" from NCS. Remember: DE <space> YOURCALLSIGN." Please be patient. If NCS can't pull your entire call sign out of the noise, he will try to get it again. Example: "PSE?" or "AGN?" or "6 STN?" If anyone in the net happens to hear a station that NCS can't, please relay the station's call sign to NCS. We want to make sure even the weakest station can check in.

That's it. Thanks for your excellent participation in Michigan QRP Net. Keep up the good work.

73's. Ed 

DXpedition to Big Island of Hawaii

Greg Stobbs N8GAS

The mighty volcano known as Kilauea belched sulfurous vapors high into the prevailing winds. The vapors would quickly combine with the moist Hawaii air to form tiny droplets of sulfuric acid bound for Honolulu, hundreds of miles away. Oblivious to the chemical reactions aloft, three radio operators perched a few hundred yards from the Kilauea caldera and launched their own signals far beyond the prevailing winds to awaiting QSO chasers on the Mainland and across the Pacific Rim.

The three radio operators were MiQRP members, Jim Vigne KB8TXZ, Doug Basberg N8VY and Greg Stobbs N8GAS who had traveled from Michigan to the Big Island of Hawaii to activate five sites there, as participants in the year-long National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) campaign designed by the ARRL to commemorate the U.S. National Parks Centennial celebration. This is their story.


Preparation for the trip involved considerably more than a casual Lark in the Park. The team had to secure local delivery of tables, chairs, feed lines, sun protection tent, backup generator and four 100 amp-hour deep-cycle marine batteries—things which could not be shipped as luggage. Radios, and antennas traveled as checked or carry-on luggage. Uncertain about possible antenna deployment, the team carried both wire and vertical antennas, comprising two MFJ Big Stick and one CrankIR multi-band verticals, one G5RV, one Alpha Delta DX-EE, one EW8010 end fed long wire and several mono-band dipoles. The electronics included two Elecraft K3s, one Icom 7100, a SignaLink digital mode module, three laptops and a RigExpert antenna analyzer. 

Traveling over four thousand miles to the Big Island without pre approval of the National Park Service seemed unwise, so the team secured written permission from Volcano National Park prior to leaving. This involved submitting a multi-page written application for a special use permit and payment of $150 fee. Many verbal questions needed answers, like “No we are not going to be broadcasting on peoples’ car radios within the park.” When the permit finally issued, ten days prior to departure, the team was surprised by a plenitude of imposed restrictions, including a prohibition against using ropes or stakes in the ground. Erecting wire antennas without ropes or stakes was going to be difficult. The permit also specified, no generators, no banners, no nudity, and required that antennas carry flagging every five feet to prevent bird collision. 

Accommodations on the Big Island

The team settled into Greg’s Japanese style Hale (Hale means house in Hawaiian), located in Kona on the west side of the island. The Kona Hale served as the team’s base of operations and provided a Pacific-facing QTH at a 280 foot elevation from which to operate when not in the parks. Except for Volcano, all sites were within easy driving distance of the Kona Hale. While at Volcano, the group rented a cottage nestled in a lush fern covered rainforest. 


On day one, the team spent the morning unpacking, organizing gear and constructing two 65 pound cement-filled buckets embedding metal conduit to which the Big Stick verticals would be secured. As soon as the cement was dry, the team eagerly set off for the first park, Kaloko-Honokokau, located about ten minutes from the Kona Hale. Kaloko-Honokokau is the site of an ancient Hawaiian fish pond featuring a hand-built lava rock wall that separates the Kaloko fishpond from the ocean.

Given the rigors in obtaining the Volcano permit, the team approached the ranger in charge with trepidation. Indeed, chances were fifty-fifty this ranger might take one look at the three curious visitors with their truck full of threatening equipment and just say, no. Fortunately, this ranger seemed intrigued by the proposed mission to actually use radios to talk back to the Mainland. 

Running through his mental checklist of regulations the ranger said,  “I can think of no regulations that you are violating, so you may proceed with my blessing. If anyone questions you, I’ll take responsibility.” He then suggested where the team might set up, handed out his business card and even offered to call ahead to some of the other parks to pave the way. Let the QSOs begin.

Most of the shoreline national parks close at dusk, and much of that first day had been spent waiting for cement to dry. The radios did not go operational until nearly 2 pm and the team had to vacate the park by 4:30. Nevertheless, thanks largely to Jim, the team managed to eke out 14 QSOs, thus qualifying as a NPOTA park activation. For NPOTA chasers, Kaloko-Honokokau came with a bonus. The Ala Khaki National Historic Trail just happens to pass right through the park, so each NPOTA chaser got credit for that site as well. 

Pu’ukohola Heiau

At Pu’ukohola Heiau proudly stands the great lava stone temple of Kamehameha I, the historic Hawaiian king who unified the Hawaiian islands and formed the Kingdom of Hawaii. Much of the park, including the temple, bakes under intense sun, but the local park ranger quite graciously unlocked an access gate to their private quarters and allowed the team to operate in a grassy field under cover of shade trees. As the team lugged the concrete buckets and deep-cycle batteries into position, a pair of wild dogs that had been romping in that field took a high position on a bluff to the North, where they remained on guard for the duration. 

On that day, Greg had his first real taste of action. Operating on 17 meters, the first QSO came at 1:30 UTC. A few QSO’s later at 1:50 one of the chasers spotted Greg’s frequency on the DXCluster net and within seconds Greg had his first pileup to contend with. The pileup spread to Doug on 20 meters a few minutes later. After the first pileup cleared the QSO’s continued to flow in until it was time to strike operations and vacate the park. 

Hawaii Gremlins

As would become a dubious trend, each day some unanticipated gremlin would attack at least one of the stations. On this second day, under the watchful eye of the two wild dogs, both Jim’s and Doug’s stations befell gremlin attack. While working fine the day before, on this day Jim’s vertical antenna was a dud. His SWR was off the charts. Something had changed. He tried several different feed lines, but the SWR remained beyond the limits of his antenna tuner. As Jim tried everything to no avail, the gremlin devilry spread to Doug. At the beginning of a promising run, Doug’s radio mysteriously erupted into spasms of autonomous frequency hopping, as if the unseen hand of Kamehameha himself had been twiddling with the VFO knob. Doug and his NPOTA chasers were robbed of potentially dozens of QSOs. 

The next morning, back at Kona Hale, the team compared Doug’s identical antenna with Jim’s and discovered that somewhere—perhaps beside that rugged lava road exiting the Kayoko fishpond—lies a critical nylon shouldered bushing that had once isolated the feed point of Jim’s antenna from it’s grounded metal base. The bushing was gone. Without it, this 18-foot long telescoping metal whip was not a resonant antenna, but a dead short.

Undaunted, the resourceful team headed straight for Lowes and began combing the aisles for something that might function as the lost bushing. Eventually the team settled upon a nylon pipe tee with barbed ends designed to join plastic tubing. Using a pocketknife and grinder, Doug fashioned a small end piece of the tee into a remarkable replica of the original part. Jim’s antenna was back in operation.

The cause of Doug’s radio’s frequency hopping spasm never scientifically revealed itself, although perhaps the behavior could be explained as RF emanating from Greg’s nearby radio, coupling through the battery power leads and infecting Doug’s radio or perhaps his computer to which the radio was attached—either being theoretically capable of changing the VFO frequency. 

Lest you think them ill prepared, know that the had team staged two pre-trip practice sessions to test antennas and compatibility of radios. The tests were performed operating all three radios from a common DC power source and in close proximity. The radios were operated simultaneously on different bands to test the team’s bandpass filters. Another test involved sequentially operating the radios into dummy loads while listening for direct radio-to-radio intermodulation interference. Although all equipment passed these pre-trip tests, the only way to truly test for those very special Hawaiian gremlins, as the team learned, is to go there and operate.

Regarding those bandpass filters, experienced field day operators know that bandpass filters are used to ensure that strong signals from radio A will not enter via the antenna of radio B. Thus the team carried bandpass filters for every band from 80 meters through 10 meters, and used them. However, the pesky Hawaiian gremlins found ways to gnaw at even those bandpass filters. After detecting intermittent jumps in SWR, the team determined that some of the connectors on some bandpass filters were not making solid contact, despite being securely tightened. This rendered those filters essentially useless. Close inspection revealed that a few mating thread tolerances were slightly out of spec. Go figure.

Seeking Solitude and Refuge

Sixty-five pound cement buckets and a truck-full of fifty pound deep-cycle marine batteries extract a physical toll. There is no doubt about that. In measure, however, equipment gremlins extract a far greater toll because they can sap the will to push on. 

Thus after a slow start on day one, and the debilitating gremlin attacks on day two, the team needed respite. Therefore on the third day, instead of operating as planned, the team diverted to the Painted Church for a bit of peaceful solitude, and then to the Place of Refuge to seek forgiveness. The tiny, Painted Church, was assembled in 1899 from church parts lugged up the hillside from an older structure miles below. It sports an ornate interior paint job, the work of self-taught artist Father John Berchmans Verge. The paint job mimics the European cathedrals of his youth.

Just down the hillside from the church sits Pu’uhonau o Honaunau, the Place of Refuge, with an even earlier history and mystical powers. According to ancient Hawaiian lore any criminal who could make his way to this place before being killed, would be absolved of his crimes. While the plan had been to transmit from this Place of Refuge, the radios stayed in Kona. Instead the team put its full spiritual energy into making peace with the gremlins that had been chasing them, and playing a few games of Hawaiian papamu.

Trek to the Volcano

In the morning of day four, the team packed the truck and departed for the Volcano, some 98 miles away. The Big Island lacks modern freeways, so this 98 mile trek took most of the day, leaving only about an hour of daylight for scouting possible operating sites within the Volcanoes National Park. The radios traveled in the cab of the truck, leaving the bed to contain: four deep-cycle marine batteries, three foldable tables, three chairs, one sun canopy, Doug’s suitcase, one go bag containing antennas and cables, one go bag containing battery chargers and power cables, a supply of bottled water, and two cement buckets.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Of the three possible sites scouted the day before, the team chose a primitive campsite featuring a sturdy aluminum picnic table and a few flat areas on which to place the vertical antennas. Aside from the few scrubby trees and sparse vegetation scattered across the landscape, the site was a barren lava field offering little protection from the sun. 
The team deployed it’s popup sun canopy over the picnic table and operated for about an hour in shade. Then the winds picked up, bringing at first a few drops and then a constant splatter of horizontal rain. The team lashed a make shift rain fly to the side of the canopy to protect the radios and continued to successfully operate until it was time to dismantle the site before sundown. The wind never abated. 

In hindsight one questions the wisdom of placing three 100 watt RF sources on an aluminum picnic table—it practically invites gremlins. But on that day, the gremlins stayed away.
On day six the team moved to a more sturdy picnic shelter located a few hundred yards from the still active Kilauea crater. Both Jim and Doug were triumphant that day, logging many QSOs. This time it was Greg’s turn to be harassed by gremlins. Despite the bandpass filters, it seemed that RF from Jim’s radio was grabbing control of Greg’s radio. Every-single-word Jim annunciated produced an immediate squelching response in the AGC circuits of Greg’s radio. For a while Greg was able to work around this annoyance, but Jim tied into an extended pileup shortly after 00:00 zulu and Greg’s radio had to be sidelined.

Pu’uhonau o Honaunau

While operating at Volcano the team had numerous requests to activate Pu’uhonau o Honaunau, the Place of Refuge where the team had been absolved three days before. Thus the team decided to forego its planned morning of tourism at Volcano, and drove directly to the Place of Refuge. As a bonus, the Ala Khaki trail also passes through this site. Being familiar with the site, and having been warmly greeted by rangers of other parks, the team quickly got permission and set up with vertical antennas as close to the shore’s edge as the tides would permit. Propagation was good—with occasional deep fading—and the team made 179 QSOs.
Results and Noteworthy QSOs.

Despite occasionally marginal band conditions and pesky gremlins, the team managed to log 685 QSOs comprising 882 site activations. While all bands between 40 meters and 10 meters had been explored, the 20, 17 and 15 meter bands proved to be the workhorse bands. Approximately 42% of the QSOs occurred on 20 meters. The 17 and 15 meter bands accounted for the remaining 34% and 16% respectively. 

In the final tally, the team was just two states shy of a Worked-All-States award, lacking only Delaware and Nebraska. The team also logged contacts with NPOTA chasers from Canada, Japan, Australia, East Malaysia, Indonesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Thailand, Asiatic Russia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Ogasawara Islands, Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, and the Cayman Islands. Perhaps most unique was a slow scan TV QSO that Doug made with an operator in Japan on the final day, just hours before it was time to pack the radios in luggage and scour the Hale to ensure nothing got left behind. 

As the team’s plane at last ascended into the evening sky, the mighty volcano known as Kilauea belched sulfurous vapors high into the prevailing winds. It was time to leave this Island, unique in all the Pacific. Logbooks filled with memories and the gear tucked safely away, the three radio operators from Michigan fell fast asleep, heartened in knowing that two cement buckets await their return. 

Aloha and 73


The Ten-Tec Rebel – a Platform for Change

Pete Meier WK8S

We’ve had computers built into many of our radios for some time that control various features. However, with the adventurous release of Ten-Tec’s Rebel you now can control and change what and how that computer performs it’s duties.

The Rebel 506 is CW transceiver incorporating an Arduino-based microprocessor. It’s Open Source for both hardware and software – meaning that nothing inside is proprietary and the owner/user is encouraged to experiment and innovate. Hams have always enjoyed “hacking” and sometimes improving their radios. The Rebel invites you to truly make it your own right down to the software that runs it.

The Rebel is a inexpensive,and interesting Qrp CW transceiver right out of the box with DDS VFO coverage of the 20 and 40 Meter bands, 4-5 watt output, CW, RIT, and sidetone through headphones or external speaker. Also included are push button choices of 3 bandwidth filters and three tuning rate adjustments from the provided firmware program.

Shown here is the stock, front and rear panels. The Select and Function buttons work in tandem. Each of the three functions allows three choices via the Select button. The BW (bandwidth) function allows choice of Wide, Medium or Narrow. The Step function provides tuning rates of 100 Hz, 1Khz or 10Khz. The User function is left undefined for the user to modify for his/her needs. Note there is a LED set between T’s of the Ten-Tec logo. That LED is pre-programmed to flash once at each step- change of frequency providing you feedback to where you are on the dial.

Plug in 10-15 VDC power, headphones or speaker, antenna and key and you’re ready to go.




Although its ready to use out of the box, the really fun part starts when you decide you want to modify the Rebel. Programming is done through a mini USB connector attached to the Arduino compatible ChipKit board inside the Rebel. Its accessible behind a removable plate as shown above.

Both Windows and Macintosh can be used to program the Chipkit. It’s understandable that many Hams don’t have the time, skill or interest in learning to “write code” for the Rebel. However, that needn’t stop you from upgrading its software. There are many talented Hams who do program and many support the Open Source spirit and share their code on Yahoo. This has led to some very nice features being added to the Rebel. If you can type on a computer it’s not hard to enjoy these program upgrades without ever writing a line code.

I took a middle path here and started teaching myself the variant of “C” programming used by Arduino and similar micros. There are a number of books and course available for the beginner.3 With a rudimentary grasp of C, I’ve been able to “mix and match” bits of code from various versions of the Rebel’s code and occasionally added some of my own invention. The most popular code version in use is labeled Rebel Alliance written by a group or early users who collaborated via a Yahoo group. It can found on the Ten-Tec Rebel Model 506 Yahoo Group.

My first mod was to incorporate a small band change relay board designed by Jeff Fletcher AF5PI to eliminate the need to open the case and move jumpers to change bands. The Rebel Alliance software had already incorporated a choice to use the board. The code watches for a button push then powers the relays.


3 Beginning C for Arduino by Ph.D. Jack Purdum, Programming Arduino by Simon Monk, Arduino Course for Absolute Beginners by Michael James of the Open Hardware Design Group




Next I added a zero beat indicator found in my junk box from a pervious project. I used the Ten Tec Logo LED, repurposing it to indicate when a station was at zero beat of around 700Hz.

Then my goal was to add a display. Ten-Tec did not make this easy leaving no space in their case design. One Ham tried an OLED display because it was tiny enough to squeeze onto the front panel and bright enough and easy to read. I really liked this idea.

However, as promising as this display seemed, it was difficult to
program and caused problems with the existing code. After months of research and testing I was successful in adding an OLED display.

Adding the display, however, seemed to introduce a problem with cw keying. After much head scratching I determined the existing software keyer was really the culprit due to execution timing issues it’s coding created. My solution was to remove that segment of code and incorporate an internal hardware keyer to replace it’s function. It took a little searching to find one small enough for this situation. I chose a SMT version of the PK4 keyer. Literally the size of a postage stamp, it easily fit inside the Rebel and added a number of nice keying functions too.

These modifications make the Rebel much easier to use but my particular installation required another mod, a PTT line out. I use the Elecraft KPA100 to match my antennas. To efficiently use it’s tuner, with or without the amplifier, requires a PTT signal to ground. This is an easy mod which I’ve added to other radios. It uses a 2N7000 FET as a switch to provide a low-going signal on transmit.



To add this to the Rebel I programmed one of the available microprocessor input/output lines to go logically HIGH on transmit which then provides 5 Volts to the 2N7000 Gate pin causing the FET’s Drain to go low effectively bringing the PTT line to ground.

Next, just for the fun factor of it, I replaced the Ten Tec Logo LED with a Red/Green Bi-Color LED (two LEDs in one). This allowed me to restore the frequency-step flash using the red element. The green portion of the LED illuminates when I achieve zero beat.

To facilitate connecting all these mods I installed a prototyping shield which is a PCB made to plug into an Arduino’s connectors.

The result of all this fun is a small 5 watt cw transceiver that now boasts a built-in memory keyer, zero beat indicator, PTT line out and an attractive display that I’ve programmed to not only show TX/RX frequency, RIT indicator, Power Input, Graphic S-Meter but also proudly displays my callsign.


Page 4

During all this fun “hacking” of hardware and software, I’ve enjoyed actually making lots of QRP QSOs. The receiver is sensitive and the filtering is adequate under most conditions and my signal reports are excellent. Considering the low cost (around $200), this radio is a lot of fun and one that continues to evolve.

Thanks to Ten-Tec’s choice of an open source, Arduino-based micro controller I can continue to change, improve and truly make this my personal radio.


The Wildflower Incident

Greg Stobbs N8GAS

Dave and I were well on our way.

Up we had hoofed some sixty stone steps from the floor of Glen Helen to a landing, half the distance we would need to climb to get back to our car. Among Glen Helen hikers, that landing is famous. Years ago some thoughtful architect had designed the steps under our feet to include this landing, this convenient resting platform, as a place to “view” the scenery below before climbing the remaining sixty steps to the top.

Naturally, being weary and frankly somewhat out of shape, we decided without speaking a word that a “view” of the scenery below was certainly in order. So we paused there, in a state of blissful repose, gazing down upon the landscape below before resuming our climb. In truth, we were both panting through our teeth, totally out of breath, but wishing to hide that fact from the lady in red who was already standing on the landing presumably doing the same thing.

I saw the lady in red before we reached the landing, but I could not tell her age until we landed. By my estimation she was my senior by at least five years. Distance and diffuse woodland lighting tends to obscure lines of age, but when I turned to offer her a polite, “hello,” I could see that she was no spring chicken. I promptly turned to look at the scenery below so that she could not see me panting.

Ah, the bliss. How lovely the shrubbery looks in the Glen below. Standing on the landing, looking back down on those sixty steps already climbed, I was privately thanking the architect and dreading the next sixty steps to come.

Turning to look at the path ahead, I noticed for the first time a group of about four, overweight middle aged hikers, with boots, and hiking sticks, and binoculars, who prior to our arrival, had also been savoring the landing view. But upon advice of their hiking tour leader they had elected to venture out across the side of the hill, through knee-high weeds, around the apron of the hill, rather than confront the ascent head on up those remaining sixty steps.

I must admit, I’ve taken that apron route myself once or twice. Usually in the winter, when the remaining sixty steps are ice-covered and dangerous beyond all reason.

But these old gents had no fear of slipping on ice. It was ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity on that particular day. Frankly their biggest risk was being attacked by a swarm of opportunistic mosquitoes, or perhaps a brush with poison ivy.

Dave and I, still in blissful repose, and still far from ready to begin our climb, found ourselves suddenly wrenched from our blissful state by words from the lady in red that I can best liken to my hated fifth-grade school teacher:

“Excuuuse me.”

“Excuuuse me.”

“Eh?” I said still panting. “Are you looking for the nearest bathroom or something?” But we were not the object of her “excuuuse me” focus.

“Excuuuse me,” she said again to the four gents. “Why are you going that way. You’ll trample all the wild flowers.”

Trust me, I was there. There were no flowers to be seen. It was mid-July and everything was overgrown, green, knee-high weeds. Like Vietnam. No doubt in the Spring, some three months before there had been wild flowers where these gents were now standing. But in mid-July we are talking major weeds. Weeds with swarms of mosquitoes.

Dave and I looked at each other. Instinctively, both of us knew without saying a word. “We have to get the hell out of here.” The lady in red is going to make a scene, ruin our karma, castrate those poor guys where they stand, and probably take photos of the entire incident to publish in the Glen Helen Gazette along with a caption reading, “Dayton men deface Glen.”

We wanted no part of that. So we bolted.

While I privately agreed that people should stick to the trails, so as to preserve the landscape for others, and while I also knew that those four gents were basically pussies who couldn’t bring themselves to climb like men out of the Glen up those remaining sixty steps, I wanted no part of the unpleasantness that was about to explode.

We both hoofed it up the remaining sixty steps with grim determination as if out lives depended on it. Amazingly, neither of us was out of breath when we landed. I guess the adrenalin jolt caused by “Excuuuse me” put our bodies in some superhuman survival state. People lift cars from trapped victims under the influence of adrenalin. So lifting ourselves the remaining sixty steps out of the Glen was no problem at all.

Now that it’s over and I’m writing about it, I sort of wish we had stuck around to hear the dialogue between the lady in red and those four gents. They didn’t change their course, I want you to know. So I can well imagine what must have transpired.

“Look you old bitch. There aren’t any wild flowers here. And even if there were, who made you Queen of the Quonset? We are Naturalists from Wright State University, here to study the habitat of the opaka root. Leave us the hell alone.”

Although we didn’t stay to take sides, Dave had already figured out which side he was on. Offering his commentary, as if annotating a New Yorker cartoon, he said so only I could hear, “Look. We’re doing a community service here, Lady. These wild flowers need to be clear cut periodically to allow the young shoots to sprout.”

Perhaps the lady in red and the four gents resolved their differences to everyone’s satisfaction, for as nearly as I could tell, the four gents continued across the apron of the hill undeterred by wild flowers. Perhaps the lady in red was implored to join company. The opaka root, after all, makes indeed a fascinating study. But I rather suspect in next fall’s edition of the Glen Helen Gazette, will appear a letter to the editor, from our lady in red, captioned “Wild Flowers Vanquished. Dayton Men Deface Glen.

Thankfully, Dave and I escaped, unnoticed. If we visit the Glen again I vow it will be in the throes of winter, when the option to take the apron detour is viable and the opaka root and wild flowers are safely hibernating under the ice below.

As for the lady in red? Undoubtedly she’s still lurking around somewhere in the Glen. Hikers beware.